Air Travel for People with Disabilities

If you are traveling with a disability or know someone else who is, please know that there are laws and regulations that protect the rights of travelers with disabilities. We put these tips together to ease your mind, give you options when traveling, and make flying easier for you or anyone you may know that is traveling with a disability.

airline travel for the disabled

The Air Carrier Access Act Protects You
To ensure that people with disabilities would not be subject to discrimination when flying, the U.S. government passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Perhaps the most important item in the ACAA is that the airlines may not refuse transportation to people on the basis of their disability. The airline also may not require advance notification of your disability or require a traveling companion for you. Please read through the ACAA for the details that you need in order to advocate for yourself.

Advance Notification Required? Not Necessarily
Airlines cannot deny you access based on your disability – with a few exceptions. If you’re traveling by stretcher, with an electronic wheelchair or device with batteries, or if you need to hook into the airline’s oxygen system, you will need to let the airline know ahead of time. Our travel advisors can help guide you.

Your Assistance – Your Choice
Though the airlines may offer you pre-boarding or an escort, you are not required by law to accept those accommodations. However, if you would like one of the accommodations in the ACAA, the airlines are required to give it to you, free of charge.

All About Escorts
If you’re someone with a disability, the airline will provide you with an escort through security.

It’s good to keep in mind that if the airport is busy, you may be subject to a wait (since the airline is providing the assistance, you’re subject to their resources available). An alternative is to BYOE (Bring Your Own Escort). Yep. If you’d prefer to have a friend help you through the airport, you can bring an unticketed someone with you through security. Just request an escort “permit” at check-in and your escort will be permitted through security – easy peasy!

There may be scenarios in which the airline requires someone to act as your advocate on a flight. Those scenarios include:

· If you are unable to understand or respond reasonably to safety instructions;

· When you have a mobility impairment severe enough that you cannot assist in your own evacuation from the aircraft;

· Severe vision or hearing impairment that prevents you from receiving in-flight instructions

The airline can designate an off-duty employee to act as your advocate in these situations or can even ask another passenger to assist. In the event the airline cannot allow you to fly for safety reasons, they must put their reasons for doing so into writing.

If you are traveling alone and have concerns or reason to believe the airline may attempt to deny you access, we suggest you bring a current letter from your physician that indicates your fitness for travel. This may help your case, when the airline is trying to make a safety determination.

Security Screening Tips
The TSA agents cannot require you to have your arms raised for the 5-7 seconds in a basic security screening if you are disabled. They can provide an alternative to the “standard” screening if you request one based on your disability.

They also may not detain you for a period of time that could result in you missing your flight. This simply means that it’s in their best interest to make it snappy.

We always recommend everyone give ample time for clearing security (1-2 hours during the busy holiday season), but do not be shy about letting the TSA staffer know what time your flight leaves.

On-Board Considerations
Properly trained flight attendants will help you on and off the plane, but are not allowed to lift people’s bodies. If you are in a situation where your strength may not allow you to move from a wheelchair or gurney to a seat, you may want to consider a traveling companion to help you.

During the flight, an attendant can and will help you open meal items, give you a hand to and from the bathroom, and assist with your mobility devices as requested. It’s probably a good idea to give the flight attendant a heads up when you first board the plane as to what services you might like.

Service Animals and Pets
Please call ahead or have a friend call ahead if you have a service animal that will be flying with you in the cabin, as the airlines have rules as to how many animals can be on each flight. Service animals have a lot of latitude on flights and the airlines really do try to accommodate service animals at your seat. Emotional support animals are another story. Please read our posts on emotional support animals and air travel with your pet for more useful tips.

If There’s a Problem with your Flight…
All airlines are required to have a Complaints Resolution Official (known as a CRO) immediately on hand to resolve disagreements. If you feel as though the flight attendants or airline staff is not complying with ACAA regulations, you can ask to speak with the CRO and have them communicate your concerns to the pilot (who ultimately has jurisdiction over his/her airplane).

You can also reach out directly to the Department of Transportation’s Consumer Protection Hotline (800) 778-4838 or have the airline’s twitter handle available to send a well-timed tweet (if you’re not being treated fairly).

One more thing. Though it can be difficult to do in the moment, keeping your cool can go a long way to working things out in a satisfactory manner with airline staff.

Please let us know how we did and if there are other resources or tips you’ve used and found helpful that we can share with our readers.

As always, happy travels, and please let us know if we can help you with your travel plans.

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